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Tom Kha Gai Chicken Shrimp Soup on Cooking Romania by Vivi 2

Tom Kha Gai Chicken, Shrimp, Coconut Soup

We cooked the famous aromatic Tom Kha Gai Chicken, Shrimp, Coconut Soup here at Cooking Romania by Vivi! It is Thailand’s national dish and bears the influence of neighboring Laos. The traditional Tom Kha Gai Soup consists of chicken chunks, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, chili, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, coconut milk and fish sauce. We added shrimp to the recipe as it is a common ingredient in Thai cuisine, and it imparts a superb oriental flavor to the dish.

And it is the real deal, I’m telling you! This is a creamy Tom Yum version, the perfect comfort food and immunity boost you need in winter.

The origin of Tom Kha Gai

Earliest record: Tom Kha Pet soup in an 1890 Thai recipe book which introduced a coconut milk-based curry with duck and galangal.

What is the staple ingredient in Tom Kha Gai soup?

It’s galangal. It’s quite hard to find galangal in Romania, so we were happy with the substitute we used – ginger.

What is the difference between Tom Yum and Tom Kha?

Tom Kha Gai is made with coconut milk and chicken breast. Tom Yum, however, is made with broth and shrimp and is considered a hot and sour soup. This time, we used both chicken and shrimp in our Tom Kha Gai, we love both versions of it.

Is Tom Kha Gai healthy?

It is borderline medicine! Tom Kha Gai soup boosts your immune system. It is very dense in nutrients and the spice combination keeps the immune system high. We cooked this soup in December, and we became addicted!

Although the Thai recipe is made with galangal, we used ginger as a substitute and the result was amazing!

What does Tom Kha Gai mean?

  • Tom means boiled, boiling a broth.
  • Kha means galangal.
  • Gai means chicken. Now you know the meaning of Tom Kha Gai in Thai!

Bangkok memories

My mom and I visited Bangkok, Thailand for 10 days in 1991, a mere 2 years after the Romanian revolution and the fall of Ceausescu and his dictatorial communist regime. I was so excited about my first international flight and about going to a country I had been reading about for so long! Now, as we say in Romanian, “socoteala de acasa nu se potriveste cu cea din targ” (don’t count your chickens before they are hatched, or things don’t always pan out as expected).

I had been dreaming of visiting Buddhist temples and learning martial arts in Thailand, while being taught meditation by Buddhist monks and gaining superpowers, Ninja style. What actually happened? We went for 3 times to an open-air shopping market to buy clothes my mom would later sell back in Romania. We rode many tuk-tuks. We went to a night disco where the waiters kept refreshing us with steaming hot towels. We visited the largest crocodile farm in Bangkok. I got sun burnt because I did not use sunblock (I didn’t even know what that was at the time). Aaand we tried only very “safe foods” at the night food market. Nevertheless, I got introduced to the unique Tom Yum soup, hence 30 years later I am cooking Tom Kha Gai (the creamier version of Tom Yum) with my daughter Adara. All in all, my Thai culinary experience was a blast and you will see immediately why.

First time in Bangkok in 1991

I grew up in communist Romania and I had never been shopping in a nice and tidy store. I was familiar with the fights, punching and shouting, standing in line forever (sometimes we had to sleep outside three consecutive nights to get a kilo of meat), and the common disappointment when the butcher would shout: “s-a terminat” or “nu mai e” or just “gata!” (we are sold out, finished).

In a cozy store in Bangkok, I bought my first hot dog, something that I had seen only in movies (in my teenage mind, the epitome of capitalism) and a perfume that I can still feel anytime I want to go into a state of freedom and relaxation. Little did I know about the flow or the zone in 1991, however I was using it. NLP anchoring too.

Bangkok food market experience

Additionally, I had never seen street hawkers or street food carts. What a delight! A simple serving of fresh pineapple that cost 1 dollar was offered graciously to me after the street hawker put on a dance show while slicing the pineapple with a machete like a toreador fighting a bull. Bangkok is supposedly one of the best street food cities in the world and I was so lucky to see it with my own eyes.

Bangkok street food

Now, let me tell you a little bit about the street food you can enjoy in Bangkok.

Almost all Thai dishes are sold by some street vendor somewhere in Bangkok. Mobile or street stall vendors sell roti, noodles, pork, chicken, steamed buns, sweet snacks – collectively called khanom – fried sausages and sliced fruit (see my story above) on a bed of crushed ice to preserve their freshness.

Unusual foods sold in Bangkok, Thailand – only for adventurous eaters!

In Bangkok and later in Sri Lanka, I saw how fish is sun dried. People dry seafood and fish on the sidewalk by neatly placing the food directly in the sun on pieces of paper.

At night, street vendors and small restaurants sell sun-dried squid, meats on skewers and deep-fried snacks such as fried insects – grasshoppers, crickets, bee larvae, silkworm, ant eggs and termites. My mom would not allow to me to try any of these dishes that apparently taste quite bland.

Thai soups

We enjoy talking about our Romanian cuisine A LOT on Cooking Romania by Vivi. That’s why today we are going to show you what distinguishes the Romanian cuisine – the soups to be precise – from Asian cuisine – Thai soups, more specifically.

The ingredients we use are so different and yet so delish, each in its turn.

35 ingredients commonly used in Thai soups

The typical ingredients used in Thai soups are:

Animal bloodCurry pasteOnion
Bean sproutsFish saucePork’s liver
BeefFrench beansRed bean curd
CeleryKaffir lime leavesSoy sauce
ChickenLemongrassSpring onions
Chili peppersLimeSquid
Chinese cabbageMeatballsTofu
Coconut milkMushroomsWater buffalo

10 Thai soup examples

  1. Tom Kha Gai is today’s recipe on Cooking Romania by Vivi.
  2. Tom Yum is a spicy, sour, and aromatic soup that is traditionally served with rice. Served with fresh coriander, just like our Tom Kha Gai which, again, is a creamy version of Tom Yum. 
  3. Khao soi is a delicious coconut soup with a slightly spicy broth base which combines coconut milk and red curry paste. It is served with flat egg noodles and a choice of meat. It is topped with a handful of crisp fried noodles and chopped coriander.
  4. Yen ta fo is a pink Thai soup consisting of various types of noodles served in a hearty chicken or pork broth seasoned with the pungent, fermented red bean curd.
  5. Kaeng om is a light herbal curry with water-based meat stock and is enriched with a pungent fish sauce known as pla ra, kaffir lime leaves, dill, vegetables, as well as a fragrant curry paste.
Tom Kha Gai Chicken Shrimp Soup on Cooking Romania by Vivi
Tom Kha Gai Chicken Shrimp Soup on Cooking Romania by Vivi
  1. Kuai-tiao ruea is a meat noodle soup doused in a flavorsome beef broth. It can contain pork liver. Traditionally, it is finished off with the addition of animal blood.
  2. Tom chuet is a clear soup made with vegetables simmered in vegetable or meat broth along with seasonings, celery, spring onions, garlic, and soy sauce.
  3. Tom saep is a spicy and sour meat soup and consists of a flavorful broth that is usually infused with kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, lemongrass, and galangal.
  4. Suki is the Thai version of a communal hot pot dish. A bowl is placed in the middle of the table. The ingredients include meat, seafood, glass noodles, and vegetables. It is served with a chili, lemongrass based dipping sauce.
  5. Khao tom combines rice with a flavor-packed broth of herbs and vegetables. The rice is cooked, then added to the broth containing shallots, lemongrass, galangal and garlic.

47 ingredients commonly used in Romanian soups

The typical ingredients used in Romanian soups are:

BeansFishParsnip root
BeefGreen beansPeas
Bell pepperHomemade noodlesPotatoes
Borsch/wheat branLambRooster
Calf footLeekSauerkraut
CarrotsLemon juiceSmoked meat
CauliflowerLovageSour cream
Celery rootMeatballsSpinach
ChickenMirabelle plumTomato paste
Chicken and turkey necksMuttonTomatoes
Chicken feetNettlesTripe
DillOrachWild mushrooms
EggsParsley root 

Notice the difference between the set of ingredients used in Romanian and Thai soups. Two worlds apart, still equally sweet, sour and flavored.

Romanian sour soups and sweet soups

What is the difference between Romanian sour soup (ciorbă) and sweet soup (supă)?

The difference between supă and ciorbă is that the meat and most of the vegetables in the supă are removed, the resulting liquid being served with dumplings or noodles.

10 popular Romanian sour soups (ciorbă) types

  1. Ciorbă de perișoare – meatball soup
  2. Ciorbă de burtă – tripe soup
  3. Ciorbă de fasole cu afumătură – bean and smoked meat soup
  4. Ciorbă de legume – vegetable soup
  5. Ciorbă de pește – fish soup
  6. Ciorbă de pui – chicken soup
  7. Ciorbă țărănească – peasant soup, made from a variety of vegetables and any kind of meat (beef, pork, mutton, chicken, fish)
  8. Ciorbă de lobodă – red orach soup
  9. Ciorbă de praz – leek soup
  10. Ciorbă de sfeclă, also called borș de sfeclă or borș rusesc (similar to Borscht)

Sweet Romanian soups (supă)

 Supă – generic name for sweet (usually clear) soups – is made from vegetables alone or combined with chicken and beef).

7 popular Romanian sweet soup (supă) types

  1. Supă de roșii (tomato soup)
  2. Supă de pui cu găluște (clear dumpling soup with chicken broth)
  3. Supă de pui cu tăieței (clear noodle soup with chicken broth)
  4. Supă cu găluști (clear dumpling soup)
  5. Supă de linte (lentil soup)
  6. Supă de găină (hen soup)
  7. Supă cremă de ciuperci (mushroom cream soup)

Check out the Romanian national dish – Rolled Cabbage (Sarmale)!

Before you go to the Tom Kha Gai Chicken, Shrimp, Coconut soup recipe, let’s take a look at the ingredients you need:

Tom Kha Gai Chicken Shrimp Soup Ingredients on Cooking Romania by Vivi


coriander, chili, coconut milk, tomato paste, mushrooms, Tom Kha paste, shrimp, overnight marinated chicken breast, fish sauce, chicken stock, ginger, onion, lime, fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves

And here is the beautiful, creamy, flavored and warm Tom Kha Gai Chicken, Shrimp, Coconut Soup recipe:

Tom Kha Gai Chicken, Shrimp, Coconut Soup

Recipe by ViviCourse: Soups, Lunch, DinnerCuisine: ThaiDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time




Total time



Try this rich, aromatic Thai soup, pure medicine and comfort food especially in winter


  • ?1 or 2 stalks of lemongrass (outer layer removed), bashed and/or chopped

  • ?6-8 cloves garlic

  • ?2-3 chili peppers (or more to taste) for heat

  • ?1/2 cup dried kaffir lime leaves torn roughly

  • ?1 tbs ginger chopped

  • ?1 cup chicken stock/broth

  • ?3-4 cups water

  • ?1-2 onions chopped (wedges); you can use 5-6 green onions

  • ?1 cup mushrooms sliced

  • ?1 or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk

  • ?1/2 cup tomato paste, or fresh tomatoes chopped

  • ?1/2 cup Tom Kha paste if you can find it (optional)

  • ?1/2 cup (preferably marinated) chicken breast (we used overnight marinated chicken in salt, honey, vinegar, garlic, yogurt, basil, pepper)

  • ?1 cup shrimps

  • ?juice of 1 or 2 limes to taste

  • ?1-3 tbsp fish sauce to taste

  • ?fresh coriander for serving


  • Peel the prawns. Place heads and shells in pot, reserve meat.
  • Bash the garlic, chili and lemongrass so they burst open to release flavor. Add into pot.
  • Crush lime leaves with your hands. Add into pot.
  • Add ginger, water and stock. Bring to simmer over high heat, cover, then reduce to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Strain the broth, discard the prawn shells and lemongrass, keep chili, ginger, garlic and lime leaves, then return broth into same pot over low heat.
  • Add onions and mushrooms, simmer 5 minutes.
  • Add coconut milk. Add tomato paste, simmer for 3 minutes.
  • Add prawns, simmer 5 minutes or until cooked.
  • Stir in fish sauce, simmer for 1 minute.
  • Add lime juice, then taste. Adjust fish sauce and lime to your taste. Add more water, coconut milk, tomato paste to taste. You will know!
  • Cook covered over low heat for another 10-20 minutes.
  • Ladle into bowls and serve with chili and fresh cilantro/coriander!

Recipe Video


  • Feel free to add zucchini. We tried it and it was delicious!
  • Don’t add too much salt if you use Tom Kha paste; it is usually very salty.
  • To get the most flavor from the lemongrass reed, place it on your cutting board and give it a few whacks with the spine of your chef’s knife. Then chop off the top and bottom of the lemongrass, and use the tip of your knife to score the outermost leaves and peel them away. (Source)
  • We’ve used green, red and white onion. Our favorite is white onion.

Do you have any easy recipe suggestions? Send me a message!

Adara and Vivi - Cooking Romania by Vivi
Adara and Vivi – Cooking Romania by Vivi

Vivi is a passionate teacher, story teller and photographer. Adara is a passionate accountant, businesswoman and videographer. On Cooking Romania by Vivi, the Mom and Daughter play together at the intersection of self and food mastery.

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